Recently, the South Nation Conservation Authority (SNC) presented its findings to North Dundas Council. To summarize, this watershed has lost one million trees per year between 2008 and 2014, with even more loss in the last two years. This is nearly all due to agricultural expansion for soybeans and corn, not to feed the hungry, but to feed those new middle class that can now afford to eat meat. And of course, some of the corn is made into ethanol to replace fossil-based fuel. That in itself was solely a political move when you factor the fuel it takes to make the equipment, the fertilizers, the pesticides and actually fuel the machinery working the land.
Although Environment and Climate Change Canada recommends a minimum of 30 percent tree cover, this level is high risk and is not enough to sustain half our wildlife species nor guarantee aquatic health. The South Nation watershed, as of 2014, has 28.15 percent tree cover — North Dundas 13.3 percent.
This past summer I witnessed the felling of 75 acres of woodlot in one month for the usual future production of soybeans and corn. The piles of trees are lined up all waiting to be burned. Within this woodlot is the clearly marked drainage creek, Kittle Creek. The new owner ripped every piece of vegetation from the banks, down into the water and filled in the sections that were inconvenient to the path of destruction. Only when the neighbours complained about their fields flooding did the township act to have the creek cleared.
This personal experience and the report on our deforestation led me to ask questions about who is responsible to regulate and protect our trees and water?
I wrote to SNC and have still not received a reply. I did find on their web site under “regulations”: We prevent pollution and destruction of sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands, shorelines and watercourses.
Kittle Creek was not protected and is … now totally vulnerable to erosion and pollution. Since that woodlot was struck down, the wild turkeys that gleaned our fields for seeds and insects, their favourite being ticks, are gone. A rare black mink that lost his habitat has probably died.
I wrote to Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Environment. Hollee Kew, Kingston office for eastern region replied, and I quote: “While the Ministry…..does not have a direct role in regulating the clearing of private property for the purpose of agricultural activities, the province does provide guidance on such matters to upper and lower tier municipalities through the Official Plan process. The local municipality, in turn, has the authority to pass by-laws which would control such land clearing activities. I would encourage you to continue to engage your local municipality on this matter in that regard.”
I called North Dundas Planner Calvin Pol and was directed to his assistant who told me that the Official Plan was handled by SDG tier.
My response from Alison Macdonald, SDG Planner: “We have a number policies in our Official Plan regarding significant woodlands protection, however planning policies only apply to new development (not farming practices).”
The South Nation Conservation Forest Cover and Trends Analysis appendix D states that according to the Municipal Act 2001, upper and lower tier municipalities can pass by-laws to regulate and prohibit tree cutting of woodlands that are greater than one hectare. I read section 135 of the Municipal Act, and indeed it does allow municipalities to pass by laws to protect the trees from agricultural expansion. Landowners are not exempt from being prohibited to destroy trees.
The question now is: Why does SDG council or any of the county councils that make up the South Nation watershed not regulate and prevent the rampant deforestation caused by agriculture? These councils are your municipal mayors and deputy mayors. We must loudly object, and they must act now!
Trees remove CO2 from the air, release oxygen, absorb and filter water from the ground, and prevent soil erosion. We cannot afford soil loss, the basic source of our food. Woodlots provide a home to a diversity of plants and what is left of our wildlife (mammals, birds, amphibians). They shade our streams and rivers from the summer sun, to maintain the aquatic life.
What will we be leaving future generations? Will they live in a world limited to pigs, chickens, cattle soybeans and corn? Or will they experience a world of healthy wildlife ecosystems and clean water? We can no longer take these things for granted.